*This Sri Lanka 2 week itinerary post is a collaboration with Cathay Pacific
There are some countries that truly ignite my passion for travel. Sri Lanka was a place I had been dreaming of for years before I visited. It combined all of my favourite elements of travel – the tropical beaches, the wild jungles, incredible safaris spotting leopards and elephants, and the beautiful and welcoming Sri Lankan people. For those who don’t know, I’m half Mauritian with family originating from the Tamil area of India. Sri Lankan culture reminds me so much of my Mauritian family, from the food, to the hospitality, to their heartfelt welcome to their families, their homes and their world.
It was a part of the continent I hadn’t yet explored, and left behind the sleeker, modern feel of many of the Asian countries. Instead, Sri Lanka felt like stepping back in time, a chance to travel more authentically and away from the influences of western culture that have commandeered South East Asia. While there’s no doubt the infrastructure was growing rapidly to accommodate tourism, Sri Lanka still remains a great country to get a bit off the beaten track and to experience the wild, rugged landscape. But I appreciate it can be difficult to plan a trip there, so I’ve created three options for a two week itinerary focusing on different elements the country has to offer.
3 things to consider when planning a Sri Lanka 2 week itinerary:
I was super impressed with the transport across Sri Lanka – despite not being super touristy at the time I travelled there, the public transport links were well established and really easy to navigate. Of course, there are lots of different options depending on how you prefer to travel. There are shuttles and private transport cars/buses available to book, transfers available through accommodation and tours. You could also book a tour for the entire trip which would include all your activities, food, accommodation and transport.
I personally love to use public transport where possible because it gives you a great opportunity to experience the country as the locals do, and to make some new friends along the way! The public transport in Sri Lanka is some of the best I have seen in Asia, which I hadn’t expected before travelling there. But I would encourage you to try it out at least once during your trip, because it’s such an amazing travel experience. I particularly loved the trains which had amazing views of the oceans, tea plantations and mountains.
Guide to transport
- Trains – On time & efficient. Book ahead to reserve a seat or book first/second class. Or ride with the locals on the day! The famous 7 hour ride from Ella to Kandy through the mountains and tea plantations cost just £1.36 per person (LKR 310)
- Buses – Also super affordable and a very entertaining way to travel. These are cramped and often hectic, but everyone is really friendly and the conductors are amazing at ensuring you’re on the right bus and know when to jump off. Expect high speed rides and to travel several hours for less than £1 (LKR 200)
- Scooters – These are not as widespread as in South East Asia and are actually a pricey hire compared to other countries. We only rented one in Ella to explore the mountain town but it was so worth it! We paid the standard rate of LKR 1,500 (£5.60) for 24 hours and it was great – just watch out for potholes.
- Tuk Tuks – These can really range on pricing and are a hotspot for overcharging tourists. We were asked for LKR 1,500 for a ride that we ended up paying LKR 400 with a decent driver. But still a great and easy way to get around! Also – did you know you can hire a tuk tuk for your entire trip?
Sri Lanka’s weather felt far more volatile than that of South East Asia during our month-long stay. You also have to take into account the varying climates within the country as you travel between the city, the mountains, the beaches and the jungle. Visiting in November, it fluctuated between hot, humid and sunny, to grey and overcast on some days, colder in the mountains, to intense storms and rain. It was perfect for what we wanted for our visit and we loved the wild weather – plus the rain ensured the jungle was lush and green.
If you were to travel during peak season (December-January) the weather is likely to be sunnier and hotter, however there will usually still be rainfall in the more northern and eastern parts of the country. If you’re a surfer, or plan to do lots of activities such as safaris, it’s important to research the weather before you book to ensure you will be able to access these activities during your stay. During some times of the year, the currents become too strong and dangerous for surfing. Likewise, during heavy rainfall, areas of the national parks may be inaccessible.
Pre-booking in peak season
December and January are the peak tourist season in Sri Lanka and the most popular time of year to travel there. Even during these months there will often be rainfall in the north and east so travel prepared for both the heat and the rain. I actually chose to travel Sri Lanka during November which is the “shoulder season”. Planning a Sri Lanka 2 week itinerary between September and November will often mean there is little to no rain in the South and West of the country, plus you can avoid the crowds.
If you choose to travel in peak season, be sure to book ahead for trips and accommodation. During November we had our pick of hotels and accommodations, we also enjoyed much lower rates and often we were the only non-locals around. However, there were also many places that were closed at this time due to lack of tourists. There are positives and negatives to either choice, just be sure to research before you travel.
Best places to visit in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka’s capital city is a vibrant, bustling city with a population of 5.6million. The perfect place to kick off, or end your Sri Lanka 2 week itinerary – it combines local charm and busy markets with a more cosmopolitan edge as ever more glossy hotels and stylish galleries pop up. It’s easier than ever to access the city with flights available from Hong Kong with Cathay Pacific.
Top 3 things to do & see in Colombo:
- Explore the older Fort and Pettah areas where you’ll find beautiful colonial buildings, markets and lots of history
- Visit the main attractions – the National Museum, Gangaramaya Temple, Beira Lake, Independence Memorial Hall
- Watch the sunset at Galle Face Green and eat delicious street food
This beautiful seaside town is located on the south coast of Sri Lanka and sits among several sprawling sandy beaches. Think swings from palm trees, white sandy beaches and of course, fresh coconuts. It’s a perfect place to relax and enjoy some downtime after the bustle of the city.
Top 5 things to do & see in Mirissa:
- Explore the beaches including Secret Beach and watch the sunset from Secret Beach Bar (ask a tuk tuk to take you)
- Go surfing at Weligama Beach
- Whale watching
- Eat out – don’t forget to try Dewmini roti shop for amazing local food
- Head to The Doctor’s House for live music, surf vibes, great food and drinks
- Read: Sri Lanka | Your beachy bliss guide to Mirissa & where to stay and what to do?
- Read: 11 Great Things To Do in Mirissa, Sri Lanka
Yala National Park
One of my absolute highlights of visiting Sri Lanka – Yala National Park is truly spectacular. This jungle is home to wild elephants, leopards, sloth bears and many more incredible animals. Go on safari and stay in epic luxury safari tents.
Top 3 things to do & see in Yala:
- Go on safari and spot leopards/elephants and even bears in the wild
- Eat dinner under the stars, surrounded by fireflies
- Visit a fishing village on a secluded beach in the national park
- Read: Making your Yala National Park visit budget AND eco-friendly
- Read: Luxury Safari Camping at Yala National Park
This beautiful mountain town was another of my highlights in Sri Lanka. The climate is much crisper and cooler up here, which provides the perfect conditions for endless tea plantations and beautiful winding mountain roads with waterfalls.
Top 3 things to do & see in Ella:
- Take the scenic train from Ella to Kandy through the tea plantations
- Watch the famous blue train cross the Nine Arch Bridge
- Explore the natural sights – Rawana Falls, Little Adam’s Peak, Ravana’s Cave and Lipton’s Seat
- Read: RIDING THE KANDY TO ELLA TRAIN: INFO, TIPS AND MORE
- Read: NINE ARCH BRIDGE, ELLA: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW
Kandy can be a shock to the system after the calmer mountains and jungle, but it has a lot to offer visitors. Its home to several sacred Buddhist sites and a great place to watch displays of local dancing. Take some time for the Royal Botanic Gardens, they’re lovely to walk around – a real oasis of calm.
Top 3 things to do & see in Kandy:
- Visit the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic
- Wander the Royal Botanic Gardens
- Visit Kandy Lake and the storied temple
The cultural heart of Sri Lanka and the home of the country’s rich history. Located in the centre of the country, Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle links several sites of historical and religious importance with some spectacular natural sights.
Top 5 things to do & see in the Cultural Triangle:
- Take a sunrise hot air balloon ride over the misty jungle & mountains from Dambulla
- Visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Anuradhapura – the ancient former capital city from 4th century BC
- Explore another UNESCO World Heritage Site – ancient rock fortress Sigiriya Rock
- Cycle the ancient city of Polonnaruwa and visit the giant Buddha statues
- Visit the Cave Temples of Dambulla – a network of 80 caves filled with paintings, statues and a 14m statue of Buddha
Options for the ultimate Sri Lanka 2 week itinerary
Action/adventure Sri Lanka 2 week itinerary
Colombo – Kandy – Ella – Yala – Mirissa
This route focuses on keeping you active and busy exploring from the city, to hiking to heading out on safari, to surfing the south coast. This Sri Lanka 2 week itinerary promises all the action and adventure you need to have a lifetime of stories to tell. Start off in Colombo and take two days to explore the city’s colonial charm and beautiful sunsets over Galle Face Green. Then catch the train to Kandy where you can visit ancient Buddhist sites and temples and can head to the lake for stand-up paddle boarding or kayaking.
Then it’s the scenic train ride to Ella which will give you a chance to see the real natural beauty of Sri Lanka – this takes around 7 hours so plan a day for this journey. Hire a scooter in Ella and head out exploring, there are plenty of great hikes and places to head off the beaten track to waterfalls and peaks. Plan 2-3 full days in Ella to give you a chance to explore and squeeze in some good hikes. Then it’s off to Yala National Park – the journey will take half a day so you’ll want at least 2-3 days there so you can do a sunrise safari and perhaps even a night safari. Then it’s off to the beaches of Mirissa where you can spend the last few days of your trip sunbathing and relaxing, or surfing and snorkelling before returning to Colombo.
Cultural Sri Lanka 2 week itinerary
Colombo – Kandy – Dambulla – Sigiriya – Polonnaruwa – Anuradhapura
There is so much to see in the Cultural Triangle, so don’t expect to be able to fit everything into two weeks without exhausting yourself. Focus on the key sights you would like to fit in. When arriving in Colombo, don’t spend more than two days in the city before travelling to Kandy which will give you another day or two to explore the city sights. Head to Dambulla, where you should start off your time in the Cultural Triangle with a hot air balloon ride over the misty jungle – still my favourite Sri Lankan experience. It’s a super early start, so give yourself two days here to recover and visit the cave temple.
Next up – you will want to base yourself somewhere in the Cultural Triangle to allow easy access to all of the cultural sites. I recommend Habarana because it is one of the shortest driving distances to each of the sites and has a range of accommodation options. From here, you can plan day trips to Sigiriya Rock, Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura with days to rest in-between and visit the local markets. If you choose a homestay with a local family, it gives you time to enjoy the cultural experience and spend time with them also. Nearby, there is also Minneriya National Park which also offers safaris where you can (at the right time of year) see 1-200 wild elephants roaming free. Allocate the days according to what sights/experiences you most want to enjoy and then just allow 1/2 days at the end of your trip to travel back to Colombo.
Nature & beaches Sri Lanka 2 week itinerary
Colombo – Galle – Hikkaduwa – Unawatuna – Weligama – Mirissa – Tangalle – Yala National Park
Beach bums will love this Sri Lanka 2 week itinerary which takes you on a tour of some of the best beaches and coastline Sri Lanka has to offer. This itinerary is a lot more relaxed and open to changes depending on what you want to do the most. Flying into Colombo, take a day to explore the city’s colonial architecture and charm. Then, catch the train to Galle where you can explore the fort and lighthouse while taking in the views. Then you have your pick of the beaches with particular highlights being Unawatuna, Weligama for surfing, Mirissa Secret Beach and Tangalle.
I recommend planning a visit to Yala National Park and spending 2-3 days there on safari spotting leopards and elephants in the wild. But it’s up to you whether you want to organise this for the middle of your trip, or at the end. I would recommend travelling from Galle to Mirissa and spending a few days there, before heading to Yala for a few days. Then finish up your trip by staying in Tangalle and Unawatuna to break up the journey back to Colombo.
Have you visited Sri Lanka? Would you like to one day? Which of the itineraries would you enjoy the most?